BikeSocial Publisher. Has been riding since before Frankie said ‘Relax’, owned more than 100 bikes and has written for, edited or published most of the UK’s best known bike magazines. Strangely attracted to riding high miles in all weathers, finds track days ‘confusing’ and describes the secret to better riding as ‘being invincible’.
It’s never been easier to see the world by motorcycle with more companies offering incredible experiences on two wheels. There are two basic types of biking holiday; Guided motorcycle tours let someone else with all the right connections take care of the route planning, bike hire, insurance, navigation, hotel bookings and provide you with the company of a ready-made bunch of new mates. Self-guided tours include much of the above, but without the group of buddies, back-up van or tour guide. Self-guided tours can still be organised by a third party, so you get all the advantages of their experience but more freedom to set your own timetable.
A ready-made bunch of new mates, everything sorted, all you need to do is ride
A great guided motorcycle tour makes everything easy. If you’ve never ridden in a particular country it’s an enjoyable way to take away the worry – especially if that country is very unlike your own. You’ll ride in a group (usually 8-15 bikes with up-to 20 riders and pillions) with a qualified tour guide who has decades of local knowledge of the best roads and facilities. Plus they know the local customs, traffic regulations and anything else likely to get on the way of you having a great time.
A good tour guide can assess the riding skills of a group and adjust the pace accordingly, bringing a random group of strangers together to ride as a well-organised pack across thousands of miles in all weathers… safely.
The best tour companies have the experience and connections to book the most suitable hotels, the newest bikes, the smartest, friendliest tour guides and the best attractions en-route. They know how to manage the mileages and when to take a rest day. They understand how to manage a group of riders, have every contingency accounted for and there’s a well-equipped back-up van looking after your needs and carrying your luggage.
A big guided tour costs a lot of money – a proper once-in-a-lifetime experience. So you expect it to be perfect.
Before you go it’s all about the communication. Raising your excitement with a beautifully illustrated road book showing routes, destinations and suggested attractions to visit. Help and advice about weather conditions, suitable riding kit and half a dozen things you would otherwise be worrying about. ‘Fancy an extra night at the beginning or the end of your tour? Of course, we can take care of that.’
When you arrive at your starting location, tired-but-excited after a long flight, the guys are there to meet you. There’s an informal welcome dinner, a chance to meet your new mates and a gentle briefing about what happens tomorrow – your first day on the road.
There’ll be some simple guidelines about riding in this country. What to expect, the rules of the road, how their petrol pumps work and what to do at junctions. Some words about the wildlife and suggestions about dealing with the climate.
get to know your new mates, learn to ride in a group
Then it’s off to the dealer (probably – some tour companies have their own fleet) to meet your rental bike. When you get there the paperwork will have been sorted. All you need is to sign a few forms, pay a deposit and wait for everyone to be ready. It takes time to get a whole party sorted, so enjoy the facilities, try and avoid buying too many souvenirs and take the opportunity to get to know everyone.
Day one will be gentle. You’ll get a chance to get used to the bike, some instructions on riding in a group and then an easy ride to the lunch stop. It’ll feel strange because group riding in a foreign country is strange. Be thankful you don’t have to navigate too. The afternoon will be easier and you’ll be feeling better with the bike and the group.
By the end of day two you’ll be completely at ease. Trusting your new buddies, at one with your bike and kicking yourself for not doing this years ago. Because the luggage goes in the van you can enjoy the ride. And because the van driver knows how to keep us Brits happy, there’s a crateful of cold beer waiting in the back of the van when you arrive each night, which encourages everyone to chill for a few minutes, unwinding from the day, before checking in and heading out for dinner.
Group tours are all about discovering new places in great company, knowing that you can’t get lost or end up in trouble or broken down at the side of the road. The social side is amazing, your tour guide knows all the best roads and places to stop and there’s a great bunch of like-minded mates to share it with every night.
We can’t recommend it highly enough.
A good tour company includes the following on a guided tour.
When you’ve found the way to Amarillo, it’s good to share it with friends
Using a guided tour in America (for Brits, it’s the most popular destination) as an example; a typical nine day tour (six days riding, one rest day mid-tour plus one day either side for travelling) typically costs around £2500 per person for two people on one bike sharing a hotel room. Two people sharing a room but on two bikes will be £3100 each, and if you want a single room it’ll be closer to £4k.
The above prices are from Orange-and-Black.co.uk, one of the most experienced tour operators in the UK who run superb, professional holidays to the highest standards. I’ve personally spent my own money with them on three occasions.
Those prices don’t include flights, motorcycle-specific travel insurance, food and drink or other expenses while you are there. So for two people, sharing a room, each riding a bike, including flights, food, drink and spending money you’ll be spending upwards of £8000.
That’s a lot of money – a proper bucket-list experience. Thing is…it’s worth it. And then some. If you can afford it, do it, you won’t regret a moment. If you can’t afford it now, start saving. Eight years on since my first American motorcycle tour I still think it’s the best money I’ve ever spent on anything.
Just the two of us… Self-Guided is more flexible, with fewer friends
If you’ve already ridden in a particular country or have done a guided tour or two, then a self-guided tour is a great way to see more, set your own timetable and save money. Most tour operators offer a self-guide option where they do the hard work – booking the bike (including delivery to your hotel), suggesting an itinerary, booking hotels etc but there’s no guide, no back-up van and no big group of riders sharing the experience.
More than likely an experienced tour operator will get better rates at the hotels than you will on your own and will know the best places to stay. For example, on our last tour, starting in Las Vegas, our operator had booked a hotel that was close to the action, but also near the best freeway to get us out of town on day one. So our first, nervous, jet-lagged moments on the bike involved simply turning right, then turning right again, which put us on the freeway for a leisurely rumble to Indian Springs getting used to the bike. Likewise, our hotel in San Francisco was easy to find in evening rush hour traffic, when we arrived and equally easy to get back on the road in morning rush hour when we left.
Self Guided tours can be arranged to suit your dates because there’s no group to arrange or tour guides to book. This also means you can make the tour longer or shorter (we wanted a full weekend in San Francisco, for example).
Take a detour, in your own time…self-guided is more flexible
The self-guided version of the same nine day tour in America we used above works out at £1400 per person for two people on one bike sharing a hotel room. Two people sharing a room but on two bikes will be £1900 each, and if you want a single room it’ll be around £2700. So for two people on two bikes sharing a room with flights, fuel, food and spending money you’ll still be looking at around £6000. Which is still a lot of money compared to a fortnight in Greece, but, trust me, you’ll remember it for ever.
In many countries it’s not too difficult to rent a motorbike, book your own hotels and create your own bespoke holiday. You won’t save a much (if any) money if the bikes and hotels are of similar quality to the tour operators and if the interest rate changes between booking and arriving, you might be out of pocket.
The other option would be to ship your own bike abroad, which is worth it if you want to do some specific type of riding (off road or track days or classic events for example). Otherwise, you’ll need to be looking at a very long trip before the rental costs exceed the shipping fees.
If you really want a very different experience it’s worth contacting some of the established operators and asking if they can put together a package for you. There’s a lot of expertise and experience in some of those companies and many of them are doing this because they share your passion for adventure. You’ll be surprised how much help some companies can and will be.